Defunct Kmart draws a crowd

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Kmart's sprawling parking lot has become a field of recreational vehicles since the store went out of business and city officials say there's not much they can do.

The presence of motor homes and campers breaches city code but it's the landowners who are in violation, not the campers.

''They're not committing a crime,'' said Pat Cole, city administrative services director. ''You can't have a campground in your parking lot unless you have a state campground permit, which Kmart does not have.''

Cole said there were not major problems with RVs parking at Kmart when the store was open. But he noted that Kmart's ''no camping'' signs were removed and word about the lot spread.

''I have a hunch that (Kmart) didn't take them down,'' Cole said. ''Someone took them down.''

Last year, Michigan farmers Dale Petrie and Ruth Seybold stayed in the Fred Meyer parking lot. They returned to the department store when visiting Fairbanks again this week, but moved their 28-foot trailer when they learned of the Kmart lot. If they can stay for free in a store's lot, why pay to stay at a public campground or an RV park, they asked.

''Maybe it's tough on the campgrounds, but when they want $20, $25 for a dry site, it's a lot of money,'' Petrie said.

He said he and his group are spending plenty of cash in Fairbanks.

''We dropped probably $500 here in town last night and this morning,'' he said.

Alaska travelers can bypass Fairbanks entirely if they want to, said Suzanne Spanjer, owner of the Chena Marina RV Park, so the city needs to maintain good relations with RVers. But allowing campers to set up an RV city on the Kmart lot hurts campgrounds, she said.

''It's a down year to begin with ... if I don't make money, I can't spend money on payroll and other things I help support this town with.''

Cole and Fairbanks Police Director Paul Harris have been trying to contact owners of the Kmart building but that's proven difficult to impossible. The store is in the hands of a Delaware bankruptcy firm, Harris said, and no one has taken responsibility for it.

Cole said it was unlikely the city could expect a response from Kmart.

''In this case, we've got a company that's bankrupt and floundering, and parking in the Fairbanks parking lot is the least of their concerns right now,'' he said.

Fairbanks Mayor Steve Thompson wants the city to make Kmart take responsibility for the lot.

''We need to have somebody finally make contact with them, and say according to our rules, we can't have a campground out here, period.''

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